Review: ‘ANT-MAN AND THE WASP’ Shrinks to Expectations

It aims to be a palette cleanser of little significance, and on that it succeeds.

I’ll be to the point, Dear Reader, so you don’t have to skim down to the end: If you’re free this weekend, I recommend you see Ant-Man and the Wasp; if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe, I recommend you see Ant-Man and the Wasp; if you’re buying a ticket to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: I recommend you see Ant-Man and the Wasp instead. If you’ve yet to see The Incredibles 2…see that first. But if you’re expecting the caliber of film exemplified by Black Panther, Infinity War, or the Captain America films, you’ll most likely be disappointed.

Make no mistake, Ant-Man and the Wasp is popcorn goodness. Buoyed by a tight story and entertaining script, the film certainly held my attention for all of its 118 minutes. The charismatic cast, led by Paul Rudd (America’s non-Hanks Everyman), deliver both the technobabble and physical comedy well, for the most part. The script (from five credited writers) brings the MCU into the Quantum Realm while playing familiar notes of sacrifice, irreverence, and threatened parental relationships. And if you especially enjoy the breezy way Paul Rudd can riff and sell that million-watt smile, you’ll enjoy spending some time in Scott Lang’s San Francisco.

Ant-Man and the Wasp finds Lang suffering the consequences of choosing the RIGHT side in Captain America: Civil War. Under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords and on the outs with oft-girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (Evangline Lilly) and mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Lang just has to make it 72 hours without stepping a toe out of line. But where’s the fun in that? After receiving a literally dream-like message from the Quantum Realm that may or may not be from the Original Wasp, Hope’s mother, Scott must put his tail between his legs and take his proverbial licks from Hank and Hope to bring Momma Pym home. Scott also holds the only key to her freedom – which makes him a target for physics-defying villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).

Notable additions to the cast include Walter Goggins, as sleazy as ever, Laurence Fishburne, and the legendary Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne. Returning director Peyton Reed (of Bring it On fame) and Visual FX supervisor Stephane Paris serve up a visual feast with their technicolor Quantum Realm, riffing off the cosmic work detailed in Doctor Strange and the Guardians films. Reed’s shooting style, however, is indistinguishable from anyone not named Taika Waititi or Ryan Coogler, mostly relying on locked-down medium close-ups and rapid editing during the (admittedly exciting) fight sequences.

But here’s the thing: in a post-Thanos world (though the film is not), Ant-Man and the Wasp just feels…wait for it…small. The stakes – while tremendously important to the characters within – are comparatively limited not just in scope, but in risk. The fate of one woman can be worthy of drama, but the experience here is toothless, and there’s no fear that anyone we’ve come to love will be lost. For this viewer, it was hard to get emotionally engaged while I was still gutted from War. The film seems to have been intended as a comedown, a fun diversion — much like the original but without much of its zip.

Even the characterizations are tired. Both iterations of the Wasp, mother and daughter, are whip-smart, kick-ass, girl bosses…who still need to be saved by a man. Lilly’s Hope spends most of her time grumbling about Scott slighting her by not inviting her to Civil War, and later worrying about her mommy. Any attempt to give her motivation based on her own ambitions stall whenever the script demands she comments on the actions of the big boys. God forbid she has a thought that does not involve one of them! Similarly, the baddie Ghost’s interesting powers are dragged down by mundane character building — yet another villain with a sad origin story who, under any other circumstance, might be our hero. I’ve heard this record, and it’s pretty scratched up by now. We can, and should, demand more complexity (give me Michael B. Jordan or give me death!), even in entries with a decidedly lighter tone.

What’s more, the most reliable aspect of any MCU film — the humor — too often relies on retreads and callbacks. As hard as Rudd, Randall Park, and MVP Michael Peña are working, one would hope we could finally move on from wondering what Edgar Wright would have done, but the dead air tells a different story. Scenes also struggle to find ways to manufacture chemistry for Lilly and Rudd, which is unfathomable, as most inanimate objects have chemistry with Paul Rudd.

For a summer afternoon goof-off in a world trying night and day to kill the last vestiges of hope, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an innocuous blockbuster with little to offer and even less to remember. It’s just another superhero movie that does little to defy expectations because it doesn’t bother to try, right up to the expected mid-credit sequence. If Marvel is going to churn these films out three times a year (and climbing), we’re going to have to put up with more releases like this one that just…kinda sit there. But we don’t have to. It’s a new era! We can have meaningful character arcs, multifaceted villains, moral reckoning, thematic depth, and consequences! Female heroes that stand firmly on their own (looking to you, Captain Marvel)! Why flood the market with “okay” when we’ve seen what can be?

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